Christmas in a secular world
The Christmas celebrations are now behind us. Any controversy about whether Christ has been taken out of Christmas is relegated to those who want to argue about the condition of society in our secular world. The Holiday Season may well be the politically correct way to refer to all that Christians hold dear at this time of the year. However, perhaps we need to focus on the reality of our Christian belief and not worry about how our secular socity wants to define it.
In no way can Christ be taken out of Christmas. He is the center of our understanding that God entered this existence as the Messiah to enable us “to be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness” ó to use the words from Martin Luther’s Catechism. That’s where meaning is found for believers.
The world does not accept the Christian understanding as part of its reality. It sees only its focus on human achievement, wealth, and power. Society is a part of that “other world” that has no place for Christ, let alone any other religious concepts either. The concern to make sure the secular world keeps Christ in Christmas is not worth fighting. It will never happen beyond being the rhetoric of a religious conviction.
Does that say that Christians are to alter their beliefs simply to confom to a secular society? No, if anything, it reinforces our need to better understand that our belief is in the world but not of it. It seems to me that we need to reexamine anew how important the incarnation really is. Not only is it rejected by society, but it is not a part of any other religious understanding either.
The Christian Faith is the only religion that proclaims the reality of God coming to us. All other religious expressions center on what humankind needs to do to come to god ó to become acceptable to the god of their understanding. Witness, for example, the lengths to which terrorists literally give of their lives in order to find favor with their god. The rewards for their heinous deeds are blessings that are given in the life to come, blessings that appear to be physical and worldly by even our society’s standards.
The Christmas story tells us that Christ came unto our world in order that we can find meaning and purpose to our existence. That presence enables us to accept, serve, and love one another. John’s gospel puts it this way: “the Word (God Himself) became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” (John 1:14)
Christians do not earn their salvation We simply accept it as God’s gift that enables us to practice and live its reality. Its power comes from God’s presence in our lives, not necessarily from society’s recognition of it. Take heart, the beautiful carol has it right; “Joy to the World, the Lord is come” and there is no way we can remove that reality from Christmas.
The Rev. Dr. David Nelson is a retired Lutheran pastor.